2014 was a dramatic year for Europe, with the Winter Olympics bringing both positive and negative attention to Sochi; Scotland coming close to declaring independence from the United Kingdom and Russia's annexation of part of Ukraine leading to protests and violence. Europe's travel scene also saw many ups and downs throughout the year. Here's a look back at some of the biggest travel-related stories you may have missed...
According to the European Travel Commission’s most recent report, “European Tourism – Trends & Prospects,” European tourism saw a 4 percent increase in foreign visits through August 2014. Growth in large destinations in Southern and Northern Europe exceeded expectations, while smaller destinations also saw positive numbers.
Among Europe’s top destinations by international tourist arrivals, the ETC noted that Spain, the second-most visited destination, grew by 9 percent through August, on top of nearly 61 million visits reported for 2013. At number four, Turkey saw a 7 percent increase, while Germany, the continent’s fifth-most visited destination, is holding steady at 5 percent. At number 10 on the list, Greece grew by 16 percent, which the ETC credits to the recovery of business travel.
2014 was an up-and-down year for Europe’s airlines (pun intended), with mergers and cabin improvements often overshadowed by strikes that, according to the BBC, cost an estimated $160 million over the course of the year.
German flag-carrier Lufthansa saw multiple strikes throughout the year—as of December, nine actions had grounded thousands of flights. In April alone, a three-day strike prevented 3,800 Lufthansa flights from taking off, causing a year-over-year passenger decrease of nearly 3 percent.
Likewise, Air France saw several disruptions. In September, a pilots strike forced the carrier to cancel close to three-fifths of its flights. According to Reuters, the strike reportedly cost the airline between $13-19 million per day, which threatened to wipe out the 78 million euros in pre-tax profit that analysts had on average expected Air France-KLM to make over the year.
One of the biggest disasters of the year, of course, was the shooting down of a Malaysian Airlines flight over Ukraine, reportedly by separatists. Violence in Ukraine between government forces and pro-Russia rebels in the country's east erupted after Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in March.
But it wasn’t all bad news for Europe’s airspace: The International Air Transport Association (IATA) now provides passengers with emergency tickets in the event that their travel plans become affected by an airline bankruptcy. IATA airline members flying to and from the European Union will provide the passengers with the rescue fares, and passengers will be given access to discounted fares. For customers who didn’t purchase travel insurance the rescue fare will be available for up to two weeks after the financial failure.
And even Air France had good news to share in spite of the strikes: Over the summer, the airline announced details about its new seats and cabin configurations. Most notably, the new La Première suite has seats that stretch out into a six-foot-long flatbed with a mattress installed by the flight attendants. In total, 44 Boeing 777 planes will get almost 10,000 Economy seats, more than 1,100 Premium Economy seats and 2,102 new Business class seats. The new cabins will be available on flights to Singapore, Jakarta, Tokyo-Haneda, Houston and Shanghai. Douala, Dubai and Sao Paulo will follow this year.
London's Heathrow Airport had plenty to celebrate this year: The airport's Terminal Two (otherwise known as the Queen's Terminal) opened over the summer at a reported cost of £2.5 billion. The terminal, home to 22 Star Alliance airlines as well as several other carriers, has a range of lounges as well as some swank shops.
In August, Italian airline Alitalia and Etihad finalized a $2.3 billion investment deal that will see the UAE flag carrier invest $751 million in the struggling Italian flag carrier. Etihad Airways will take a 49 percent shareholding in Alitalia, as well as a 75 percent interest in Alitalia Loyalty Spa, which operates MilleMiglia, the airline’s frequent flier program. The purchase also includes five pairs of slots at London’s Heathrow Airport valued at $80 million. The proposed network plan focuses on long-haul flights from both Rome Fiumicino and Milan Malpensa. This will include flights to new destinations, increased frequency in certain existing markets and an enhanced network to Abu Dhabi to capitalise on growing traffic between Italy and the UAE. In addition, Alitalia’s passengers will be able to access Etihad Airways’ global network.
In July, the tragic story of the Costa Concordia came to an end when the stricken vessel was towed to to Genoa, Italy, to be broken down for salvage. The ship was returned to the port where she was built and launched nine years ago. The successful removal of Costa Concordia from Giglio, an island off the coast of the Italian mainland, marked one of the biggest maritime salvage efforts ever undertaken.
But Italy's cruise scene also saw plenty of good news, too. Construction began in July on Regent Seven Seas Cruises' new 750-passenger Seven Seas Explorer at the Fincantieri shipyard in Genoa. The luxury line will begin taking reservations for the new vessel's voyages in early 2015.
CroisiEurope, meanwhile, began assembly on the MS Loire Princesse, the line’s newest, 295-foot ship, on Dry Dock B at STX France. The Princesse will sail six to eight-day cruises on the Loire River beginning in 2015.
In December, Club Med opened its newest ski resort flagship at Val Thorens in the French Alps. The property has direct access to The Three Valleys, the largest ski domain in the world, and offers all-inclusive ski options that can include airfare and a layover in Paris.
In May, Hard Rock expanded into Europe for the first time on the seafront of Ibiza’s Playa d’en Bossa. Outdoors, the Hard Rock Hotel Ibiza has an open-air stage for live concerts that can accommodate up to 2,500 guests. Inside, it has 493 rooms including 235 suites and leisure facilities like a lobby bar, kids club, teen venue and beach club.
In France, the Peninsula Paris officially opened over the summer, just steps away from the Arc de Triomphe and the Champs Elysée. The hotel is in a 100-year-old classic French-style building that was the Hotel Majestic, a notable historic landmark. The five-year renovation by local designers and craftsmen reportedly used traditional techniques to maintain the classic vibe. The Peninsula Paris has 200 rooms, including 34 suites—five of which have a private rooftop. It also has six restaurants and bars including a panoramic rooftop bar—L’Oiseau Blanc—with a 360-degree view of Paris; the Peninsula Spa; a private reception rooms; and Paris’ first above ground Cigar lounge.
In October, the Four Seasons Moscow officially opened in a restored 1930s building located on Manezhnaya Square and close to Red Square, St. Basil's Cathedral and the Bolshoi Theatre. Many of the hotel's 180 rooms have step-out balconies.
In July, the Turkish coastal city of Bodrum got a Mandarin Oriental hotel. Overlooking Cennet Koyu (paradise Bay), the Mandarin Oriental Bodrum has just 59 guest rooms and 27 suites, including two Presidential Villas. Most rooms have terraces, and the suites come with plunge pools and outdoor showers in private gardens.
In June, the Park Hyatt Vienna (the brand's first property in Austria) opened as the only hotel in Vienna's Golden Quarter, the pedestrian-only shopping district. The 143-room hotel has 35 suites and is housed in a 100-year-old building that once housed the Austrian Hungarian Monarchy Bank.
May saw the debut of the Ferragamo family's newest hotel, the Portrait Firenze, on the banks of the Arno and close to the Ponte Vecchio. The hotel has a notable fashion theme and a penthouse suite that can sleep 10.
In early September, Raffles opened a new property in Istanbul's Zorlu Center, a popular hub for fashion and cuisine overlooking the Bosphorus. The hotel has 132 guest rooms and 49 suites as well as two restaurants and bars.
Istanbul also got a St. Regis hotel in the Nisantasi neighborhood on the European side of the city. The hotel is close to boutiques, restaurants and major landmarks including the Istanbul Congress Center and Taksim Square.
In May, the Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam opened in the UNESCO area of Herengracht. The canalside property is made up of six historic 17th-and 18th-century townhouses that were once home to some of the city's top residents, and that have been converted into a 93-room hotel. All of the rooms have top views over the city, looking out on the canal or the local gardens and rooftops.
But London may well take the cake for new openings in 2014: In May, the city got its first Shangri-La hotel in the post-modern Shard building. The Shangri-La Hotel at the Shard, London (its full name) occupies floors 34-52 of the Renzo Piano-designed skyscraper that rises 1,004 feet above London Bridge station. Its 202 guest rooms are, at 452 square feet on average, among the largest in town. The hotel has three F&B outlets, including Ting restaurant; Láng patisserie and deli; and Gŏng, London’s highest champagne and cocktail bar, as well as a Skypool on the rooftop.
The 359-room Mondrian London at Sea Containers, the first Mondrian-branded hotel outside the U.S., officially opened in September along London's South Bank. The hotel also has a 200-seat restaurant, Sea Containers, helmed by Seamus Mullen and multiple bar spaces, including Dandelyan, with drinks crafted by mixologist Ryan Chetiyawardana, and a soon-to-be-announced rooftop bar.
Conrad Hotels landed this year in London with the Conrad London St. James. Originally opened at the end of 2012 as the InterContinental Westminster, the hotel was rebranded in September 2014. This is the first Conrad hotel in the UK. With a central London location between Buckingham Palace and Big Ben, the Conrad London St. James is housed in a historic 19th century brick building called Queen Anne's Chambers. (It was originally built for lobbyists and government workers who needed to live near the country’s seat of power.) Spaced across six floors, the hotel has 256 rooms (including the Conrad Suite which is accessed by its own private elevator).
Also in London, the Beaumont arrived as the first hotel project from Chris Corbin and Jeremy King – the restaurateurs behind The Wolseley and The Delaunay – the 73-room Beaumont is located in the city’s Mayfair district, and will have a traditional American-style grill, residents’ lounge, a spa and a towering ‘inhabitable sculpture’ by artist Antony Gormley that protrudes from the building’s façade. (It's called Room, and it looks like a seated person.)